Death Of Father Attending Hospital On A Weekend Could Have Been Prevented With Antibiotics

Widow Says Improvements Must Be Made So Husband’s Death Wasn’t Completely In Vain

10.12.2013

The family of a man who died of meningitis, just days after medical staff failed to diagnose and treat a severe middle ear infection that resulted in deadly brain damage, have today (10 December) called on the Trust responsible for his death to confirm improvements have been made.

Father-of-two Rikki Baker died at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital aged 31, 16 days after he and his wife Alicia had first asked for help from doctors on 14 July 2010, because he was suffering severe ear ache and discharge from his ear.

Medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell instructed by Alicia following her husband’s death found that Rikki should have been referred to a doctor at the A&E department on 24 July (a Saturday) after his symptoms of vomiting, feeling dizzy, light intolerance and fever worsened. If this had happened, he would most likely have been diagnosed with an infection of the middle ear and prescribed a course of antibiotics to clear it.

But instead, he was referred by the receptionist to be seen by a nurse at the Walk In Centre who wrongly diagnosed him as suffering from an infection of the external ear canal (less serious), and he was sent home with ear drops, meaning the infection was left untreated and allowing it to spread from his ear to his brain causing irreversible damage.

After being sent home Rikki’s condition rapidly worsened such that he was drifting in and out of consciousness and despite Alicia ringing an out of hours GP service and NHS Direct, the terrified mum was not instructed to take him back to hospital.

On 26 July, Rikki fitted at the family home in Exeter and was rushed by ambulance back to hospital where he was finally diagnosed with an infection of the middle ear and underwent an operation to remove the infected bone and tissue. However, the treatment came too late and he sadly died on 30 July of brain damage and swelling caused by blood poisoning as a result of an acute infection of the middle ear.

Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust admitted to Irwin Mitchell lawyers that had Rikki been seen by a doctor on 24 July 2010 it would have resulted in him being given antibiotics, which would have likely resulted in the treatment of his ear infection and would have avoided his death.

Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust has now agreed to pay an out-of-court settlement to the family for the failings in Rikki’s care which was approved today at the Bristol District Registry.

Luke Trevorrow, a medical law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Bristol office is representing Alicia.

Expert Opinion
This is a truly tragic case that has left two little boys without a father and Alicia shocked and devastated by the sudden loss of her husband; having been together since they left school.

“It is obviously very difficult for the family to come to terms with the fact that had Rikki been referred to a doctor and given a simple course of antibiotics to treat the ear infection, he would in all likelihood still be alive today.

“Instead, the family now have to live with knowing that more could have been done to prevent Rikki’s death and obviously no settlement can make up for that.

“We believe that diagnosis of ear infections can be difficult even for experienced doctors and it should not therefore be a diagnosis that nurses are asked to make without assistance. We do not believe that they should be put in that position.

“We are keen to see confirmation from the Trust about what training and procedures have been implemented to ensure the same errors cannot be made again and protect patient safety.”
Luke Trevorrow, Associate

Following an inquest into Rikki’s death at the end of 2011, a Coroner gave a narrative verdict, recording that although Rikki had died of otitis media (middle ear infection), a natural cause, there was evidence that vital signs had been missed which lead to a misdiagnosis of otitis externa (infection of the external ear canal).

Deputy Coroner Darren Salter went on to ask for a review of procedures relating to the treatment of ear infections at the Walk In Centre at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.

Alicia, 33, mum to the couple’s two children now aged eight and seven, added: "Rikki was taken from us and he should never have died. He will miss watching George and Eddie grow up and we will always wish he was still here with us.

"Knowing Rikki would have survived and been fine if he was given the correct treatment makes it even harder to come to terms with, but I am at least thankful the Trust has finally admitted it was their fault, it's a little bit of justice for Rikki.

"Despite this, since Rikki’s death, we have never once had an apology from the Trust which leaves me questioning whether improvements have been made and whether they are serious about improving patient safety. I don’t think it’s a lot to ask for given I have lost my husband and our two little boys have lost their dad.
 
"I need to know that changes have been put into place to ensure this won't happen again to another family. People deserve a thorough examination by an appropriate medical professional, and this should be common practice."

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise relating to medical negligence claims.